Plot China, 1925: Bacteriologist Dr. Walter Fane (Norton) jealously ends his spoilt wife Kitty’s (Watts) adulterous affair by making her accompany him to a remote province where a cholera epidemic rages. Amid hostility and disease, the couple rediscover purpose, and each other.
Time was you could count on scandalous misbehaviour in intemperate climes in the scads of melodramas adapted from W. Somerset Maugham’s tales: Bette Davis gunning down her lover in The Letter; Joan Crawford undoing a missionary in Rain; colonial Brits in the mysterious Orient succumbing to exoticism, humidity and gin, that whole decadence of a dying Empire thing. Edward Norton spent six years (and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner even longer) getting this Maugham romance of revenge and redemption made without lowering themselves to such florid goings-on. Which is kind of a shame. It’s finely done, but appeals more to the head than the heart.
The treatment is a world away from torrid, with beautiful Chinese vistas and vivid local colour contrasting with the central characters’ very internalised conflict. There is sex, betrayal and passion along with the parasols and cocktails, to be sure. But there is a coolness about it that is almost clinical.
The performances are faultless but distant. Norton is a Civil Service stiff, at ease only in his lab. His rage and vindictiveness when he discovers his wife’s affair come as a shock, but almost make him as unsympathetic as Watts’ party girl, who married him on petulant impulse. It is plausibly, quietly, unspectacularly by inches that he earns re-evaluation as he steps up amid tragic travail, and that she earns her forgiveness. Their co-stars are terrific. Toby Jones is a raffish delight as the “deputy commissioner to the back of beyond” type, sustaining himself with plenty of whisky, opium and filthy foreign sex. Liev Schreiber’s pores ooze oily charm as the “career diplomat at the Shanghai consulate” type, with his practised line in serial seduction all too easily captivating Kitty. The surprise bonus is Diana Rigg as a no-nonsense nun rearing orphans, nursing contagious peasants and bucking up Kitty with some marvellous life wisdom.
The screenplay and direction find intriguing detail and nuances that weren’t even in the book, let alone the previous film versions (in their days Greta Garbo and Eleanor Parker both played the strayed wife rolling up her sleeves and wringing out the face cloths to redeem herself). But it needed a hearty fire under it, not the low-burning flame of earnest, intellectual intent.
Verdict Handsomely crafted, with meticulous performances, yet it plays out drily and in monotone.
I watched this film last Saturday night and to be honest I was more than a bit disappointed. The cinematography and clothes were beautiful, but the film in my opinion was a big bore! Also I feel Kitty and Walter's relationship could have been better developed, although Edward Norton and Naomi Watts gave good perfomances, complete with a believable British accent from Norton. Also the ending of the film was trying too hard to tug at the viewers heart strings, but I was personally ... More
I thought it was OK, but overall it was a bit uninspiring. It was well shot, every one involved gave decent performances and I liked the score, but it was a little bit too restrained, everyone involved was a little bit too stiff upper lip to make the audience really care what happens by the end (which was too predictable, you could tell what kind of ending we were in line for a third of the way through). ... More
The Painted Veil’s chief appeal is its old-school virtue of a good yarn well told. If you approach the film from that perspective, you’ll be rewarded with an exercise in heritage cinema which is unexpectedly powerfully emotional .
Stunning scenery and superior acting result in a period romance that combines the intimate with the epic. ... More
I Found it to be a great film, which is beautifully shot and beautifully acted. Toby Jones is once again fantastic, although we can expect no less from him. I Didnt really like John Currans' previous effort, but I thought this was a lot more accomplished, and although I've never read the book, I thought the story was excellent, the production design and cinematography stunning, and the acting uniformly great. Very Good film. ... More
Very beautiful to look at but felt very rushed towards the end.
Whilst Kitty and Walter's relationship found redemption and love, the other facts of the story such as the nationalist threat and the cholera seemed forgotten and left by the wayside.
Essentially a by the numbers period romance that is beautiful to look at but loses the scope that the likes of The English Patient had.
*** ... More
I think the Empire review is more or less right. I have been looking forward to this film for some time and although, I wasn't disappointed, I wasn't exactly blown away.
Edward Norton, as bacteriologist Walter Frane, plays the role well as an inarticulate, cool, emotionally distant man who falls in love with Kitty, a spoilt society girl somewhat inexplicably. The character arc as Frane goes into the cholera region is drawn out nicely and Norton plays the nuances well enough to ... More
As the starting credits roll and I see that not only are Naomi Watts and Edward Norton starring in this movie, they also produced it. My heart sinks as several previous examples of vanity projects flit through my mind. Thankfully I most pleasantly surprised. The Painted Veil is a long, cool drink of water. If you will forgive me labouring the metaphor: though indeed long and cool, like such a drink, it is also refreshing. Reminiscent of films not often made anymore, such as Out of Africa, t... More